Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lipa Ban: JP Letters To The Editors

This week's Letters To The Editors in The Jewish Press is devoted entirely to the issue of the Lipa concert ban. Of the six letters published, five express concern and/or dismay at the ban and/or the way it was handled. The sixth letter, however, is from Dr. Yaakov Stern (I seem to recall hearing that name before on this blog). After telling over a story about a chassid and his rebbe, he continues:

This story illustrates the faith we must have in our religious leaders. Sadly, we see how far we are from this ideal in light of the reaction to the banning of the Lipa concert. I hate to use clichés, but in the matter of following Gedolei Yisrael, “Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do or…” You can fill in the blanks, and they should be taken literally because not only we are dealing with a lav of the Torah (Lo Tosur), but to malign our religious leaders is to undermine the foundation of Yiddishkeit.

It seems that Dr. Stern's position is that when a Gadol says something, we are to immediately turn off our brains and simply do what we are told to do. I suppose that's one way to conduct one's life... but I highly doubt that many of us would really do so. I'm wonder; if a Gadol told Dr. Stern to do something truly drastic in his life (give up his house, divorce his wife, kill his neighbor, etc.) would he actually do it without a second thought? I don't know Dr. Stern, so I can't rightfully answer that question - but I will say that if the answer is "yes," then it is downright scary the amount of control over his life that he's willing to cede to others; and if the answer is no, then he's simply being hypocritical -- after all, I don't think that in his Torah the lav (negative commandment) of Lo Tosur doesn't have any exemptions.

Rashi, on the verse of Lo Tosur, quotes the Sifri, which states that you have to listen to the sages even "if they tell you that right is left and that left is right." Well, that is one way of looking at it. Then, there is also the Yerushalmi's way of looking at it. The Yerushalmi in Horiyos (1:1) seems to state just the opposite. It states:

יכול אם יאמרו לך על ימין שהיא שמאל ועל שמאל שהיא ימין תשמע להם ת"ל ללכת ימין ושמאל שיאמרו לך על ימין שהוא ימין ועל שמאל שהוא שמאל. (I might think that if they [the Rabbis] tell you that right is left and that left is right that you should listen to them, the verse, "to go right or left) comes to tell you that [you should listen to them only] when they tell you right that is [really] right and left that is [really] left.

In other words, one is only required to listen to the Sages when, in fact, you know that the ruling is based on solid fact. If they make a ruling that is mistaken (telling you that right is left, for example), then you aren't under any obligation to follow them. I often find it interesting how whenever anyone brings up the topic of listening to the Gedolim, the Sifri is always mentioned, but the Yerushalmi is usually ignored.

But hey, we can say eilu v'eilu, right? He can follow his way if he likes and we can follow our way, right? Alas not. He continues...

Alas, I fear this exhortation will be lost due to the modern day Korachs who appeal to the masses to reject the edicts of those who seek only our best long-term interests.

Alas, it seems that someone who disagrees with anything a gadol says is a "Korach," no matter how sincere or well-intentioned he is in his belief that the Gadol may have made his ruling on facts in error. I find it interesting that Dr. Stern chose to use Korach to describe anyone to disagrees with him, since the dispute of Korach is given in the Mishna in Avos as the archetype of a dispute that is not l'shem shamayim (for the sake of heaven). If I read enough into his statement, I suppose I can say that he is implying that if you disagree with a Gadol, your opinion can never be truly l'shem shamayim, since you are just like Korach.

If that's the case, it's sad. Sad that some feel we've come to the point where differing opinions are bad and that one must shut off one's brain in order to be a good Jew. It's also sad to see that some people have to resort to ad hominem attacks (calling people with differing opinions "Korachs" to make their point.

The Wolf

(Just as a final point, there is one point in his letter that I agree with Dr. Stern on. If one disagrees with a Gadol and thinks his ruling is based on facts that aren't true, that's one thing. But it's no license to "malign our religious leaders." Disagreement with anyone, whether it be a Gadol or a layperson, should be done with respect.


Anonymous said...

You remember "Dr." Yaakov Stern from his lunatic creationist letters to the editor.

Anonymous said...

"I hate to use clichés, but in the matter of following Gedolei Yisrael, “Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do or…”"

The idiocy of quoting that bit is awesome to behold. It's from The Charge Of The Light Brigade by Alfred Tennyson. The poem is aabout a tragic charge that got its soldiers slaughtered. The poem is about how the soldiers went and chanrged even thought they knew their leaders were giving a stupid, wrong order. It's NOT about followers incorrectly making their own judgements about what are in right, good rorders from smart leaders; it's about dumb leaders and suicidal orders. Here's the line in context:

'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

ProfK said...

Let's take us "common" folk out of the equation for a moment. What happens when one gadol says something and another gadol disagrees with what is said? We see this all the time in the Gemorah and certainly in today's life. If Gadol X says black and Gadol Y says red then only one of them can be correct. What does this show the rest of us? That a gadol can be wrong. Now what if followers of Gadol X say he is not wrong--Gadol Y is, and followers of Gadol Y say he is not wrong--Gadol X is? We then do not know which Gadol is correct; more to the point, it is possible that both of the gadolim are wrong and there is an answer that neither one has thought of.

But perhaps we need to go back a step even further. Who decides who is a gadol? If group X says person X is a gadol is that sufficient to make him one? What if group Y says person X is not a gadol? Does one have to be a rosh yeshiva to qualify for gadol status? That would eliminate many of our ancient gedolim, and some from today. Does learning have to be there to be considered a gadol? How much learning? Measured by what standard? Decided by whom?

There are lots of learned people in Klal today who have name recognition, for one reason or another. There are also some with lesser learning who have that name recognition. Is that name recognition a requirement to be a gadol? There are also those who have limited name recognition. Are they a gadol only to those who know their name?

The question of who is a gadol and their fallibility reminds me of that old saying "I may not know how to tell you about great art but I recognize it when I see it." Do we?

Anonymous said...

Dr. Yaakov Stern is a moron and therefore an easy target. When I see his name in a blog posting, I don't even bother to read the whole post.

Anonymous said...

Yaakov Stern has a long history of nutty letters in the Jewish Press. He was the one who wrote to the JP to say that he is "now forced to conclude that Modern Orthodoxy is not Judaism." He's a kook, ignore him (why do they publish him??).

Anonymous said...

You can see a bunch of his letters to the editor using this link.

bluke said...

The Gedolei Yisrael are now getting involved in such trivial things as when Avos Ubanim should be, Avos U'Banim time changes get the approval of the Gedolei Hador. It seems that nowadays no one can decide even the smallest most trivial question without asking the "gedolei hador".

frumskeptic said...

"I'm wonder; if a Gadol told Dr. Stern to do something truly drastic in his life (give up his house, divorce his wife, kill his neighbor, etc.) would he actually do it without a second thought? "

I have "why should we blindly follow gedolim" discussions with my freinds ALL the time. And everytime I say something similar to the above quote they absolutely ALWAYS respond "no gadol will ever do that".. and then theres really no way to argue that.

Anonymous said...

Good on Speaks Truth for quoting the poem in context. The first thought I had when reading the post was "Yes, that's a poem about soldiers blinding following their orders and dying uselessly for it. What an analogy!"

The line "No Gadol will ever do that" doesn't wash either. Maybe a few months ago you might have said that no Gadol will ever cancel a sold out concert with two weeks notice, causing financial damage to everyone involved and then refusing to take any responsibility for the fallout. But then...

As for Gadols disagreeing, we don't see that anymore either because any Gadol who expresses an independent (usually lenient) point of view immediately loses his Gadol status because he disagreed with the other strict Gadols.

One must show respect to people of piety and intelligence but following blindly? No, there's a reason Moshe didn't just leave the Torah in the possession of the Cohanim and expect everyone else to mindlessly ask them for guidance.

Anonymous said...

This whole "follow the gedolim blindly" mindset reminds me of a story my father told me from his yeshiva days. In that year's Purim play, the Rosh Yeshiva is seen taking a phone call from another rebbi who was known to ask him for advice about everything. The "Rosh Yeshiva" listens to the phone intently; then he says, "Yes, yes - go quickly, and don't forget to flush!" According to my dad, the rabbis being lampooned were in the audience, and laughed as heartily as anyone. Seems there was a healthier attitude back in the day...